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Mary Kom Back Queen

After Kom's win at the Asian Boxing Championship in Ho Chi Minh City, the diminutive Manipuri boxer has now set her sight at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, writes Sridhar Venkatesh.

In her own words, MC Mary Kom feels invincible when she is a 100 per cent fit. On November 8, the 34-year-old pugilist struck gold in the Flyweight category at the Asian Women's Boxing Championship in Ho Chi Minh City, her fifth gold medal at the competition. The gold – her first in almost three years – proved that Mary Kom's fitness woes were finally over and she was ready to be on the road to success.

Mary Kom's opponent in the final was the five-time world champion Kim Hyang-mi of North Korea. Among all of Mary Kom's opponents in the tournament so far, the Korean was the most aggressive one. Within seconds of the bell being rung, Hyang-mi pounced on the diminutive Indian in almost every round. This was a detour from Mary Kom's previous bouts in the championship, where she had spent the opening three minutes measuring up her opponent.
Hyang-mi's head-on approach also forced Mary Kom to alter her game plan, and the Manipuri matched her younger opponent in both speed and precision. Throughout the five rounds, Mary displayed some sure footwork to outpace Hyang-mi at vital moments in the bout. Though none of the two women landed heavy punches on each other, there was a flurry of fast-paced punches from both sides. With her strong left hook, Hyang-mi seemed to have an advantage over Mary Kom. But the 2012 London Olympic bronze medallist kept her own throughout the contest, retaliating Hyang-mi with combination blows on the counter-attack.
Mary Kom's persistence gave her a unanimous 5-0 victory against her North Korean opponent and an unprecedented fifth gold medal at the competition.
With Mary Kom's exceptional display, India finished the medals table at the Championship with one gold, a silver, and five bronze medals. India thus bettered its performance in the previous edition of the tournament held in Wulanchabu, China, where the women won six medals, but none being a gold.
She also kept her exceptional record intact, having reached the final on all six occasions whenever she has participated in the tournament. On five occasions, ie Hissar in 2003, Kaohsiung in 2005, Astana in 2010 and Ulaanbaatar in 2012, Mary Kom finished with a gold medal in the Asian Championship. Only her outing at the 2008 edition of the tournament in Guwahati ended with a runner-up finish.
After her resounding victory, Mary Kom said, "I am really happy the way this Championship has panned out. I would like to dedicate this victory to all those who have supported me even though the world had written me off. I would like to thank my coaching staff who worked hard with me over the last few months."
Boxing Federation of India president Ajay Singh lavished praise on the Indian team's performance in the Vietnamese capital, and particularly lauded Mary Kom for her tremendous comeback.
"Mary Kom's gold at the Asian Boxing Championship is a huge victory for India's woman power. This mother of three has shown that with grit and determination you can overcome seemingly insurmountable odds," he said.
"I congratulate the entire Indian team for their performance in the Championship. This is a testament to all the hard work that the boxers and coaches are putting in to ensure that India becomes a boxing power in the near future," Singh had further said.
The rewards that the Manipuri boxer has reaped over the years are fruits of her labour. After spending a majority of two decades in the sport and winning countless medals and trophies, Mary Kom would be more than justified to hang up her boxing gloves. But if the mother of three has shown anything to her opponents and supporters alike, it is that never been counted out, inside the ring or outside of it.
"As long as I am training hard and my body is fit, I can beat anyone, bring it on. If I maintain the fitness levels, nobody can touch me," she had said laughingly, at a press conference in Gurugram after her return from Ho Chi Minh City.
Having her brief hiatus training harder than ever before, Mary Kom has now returned to her preferred weight category of 48 kg. She had spent more than five years in the 51 kg weight category. Unfortunately for her, the 48 kg weight category is not a part of Olympic boxing. This prompted her to gain three more kilos and secure entry into her maiden Olympics outing in 2012 in London.
Despite fighting in uncharted territory, Mary Kom managed to defy all expectations and won the bronze medal, one of the six medals that India won that year.
Her weight gain efforts paid more dividends at the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, two years later, where she won a gold medal in the same 51 kg category. Her performance at the 2014 Asian Games was nothing short of spectacular as well, as she won all her bouts leading up to the final unanimously.
In the final against Kazakhstan's Zhaina Shekerbekova, Mary Kom again faced a younger and physically more intimidating opponent. But Mary Kom's final bout at Incheon was unexpectedly easier than her previous outings, as she defeated her opponent in two rounds itself.
Her performance in the 2010 Asian Games at Guangzhou in the 51 kg category was commendable as well, even though she had finished with a bronze.
"It would be great if 48kg becomes an Olympic category. It really works very well for me," Mary told reporters in Gurugram.
Mary Kom was unlucky to have been unable to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but that has not stopped her steely resolve any bit. Taking into account her daunting training routine, one would expect her to try her luck at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as well.
However, she has specified that her next target would be the 2018 Commonwealth Games at Gold Coast, Australia. "Let me get through that and will take a call after that," a confident Mary said.

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